Sunday, Apr 27, 2003
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By Mahesh Vijapurkar
Indian arrivals have increased from 64,556 in 1999 with 1.6 lakh overnight stays to 80,429 with 2 lakh overnight stays in 2002. More, the Swiss hope, will arrive this year; trends indicate that possibility.
The entire travel trade, backed by the Swiss Government's Switzerland Tourism and Swiss International Airlines, are in the midst of promoting new destinations so that Indians can stray from their usual Zurich-Interlaken-Jungfrau triangle. They even showcase skiing destinations though Indians fall short in this field. Fares at Rs. 31,000 per return trip inclusive of a pass worth $150 to travel over a week on its huge network of trains and buses are available.
Overnight stay costs extra. The income from the holiday business was Swiss franc 21 billion which amounted to six per cent of the country's GNP in 2000.
Interestingly, Indians are considered "big spenders" and they are consistently wooed. No wonder, Bollywood is one route through which Indians are sought to be persuaded, apart from direct contact with Indian outbound tour operators. Because, films have a multiplier effect more than 60 Indian films are shot annually in Switzerland. The Indian Motion Picture Producers Association chief, Smita Thackaray, and other big names are being shown around so that more of them can understand that "organising a shoot in Switzerland is not complicated".
If Indians see the country on screen, the logic goes, more will travel there.
In some locations, because the Indian travel season coincides with the leanest of the Swiss travel industry, many Indian tour operators take over hotels and run them, with complete vegetarian fare on the table and that, for most Indians, is a big draw. Travelling in groups, they seem less adventurous in terms of cuisine and travel trade sources say that perhaps an exception is made "for just one evening for the Swiss menu".
Indians, they point out, "are traditional, but like to see new places and shop". Interlaken is awash with Indians then.
A compact thinly populated and unspoilt country, it has 5,000 km of ski runs, 60,000 km of hiking trails and 3,300 cycling routes, all interlinked to train and bus services. There is not a village that is not linked, including by cable cars and cableways.
It needs imagination to plan a Swiss holiday. It can be done with meticulous help from tourist offices in most towns. But what one needs to keep in mind is that trains and buses move by the clock and a minute's delay can mean a missed connection.
Travel ease matches all claims. Once planned and the traveller sticks to the itinerary, things do not go wrong and the entire trip can be quite seamless. As many as 115 railway stations accept baggage booked directly to them, delivered within four hours of arrival at Swiss franc 10 a piece and same holds true for return.
In some designated segments, they are delivered at the hotel by prior arrangement. And any mountain peak can be scaled, as long as you have a ticket for a cable car, funicular cog-wheeled train. The only mountain that has to be climbed traditionally, ice pick and rope in hand, is the majestic Matterhorn.
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